Finding My Voice – My Teaching With WP Journey

Note: I think I know how my online students feel when they fall behind because “life and work”.  I haven’t been able to participate as aggressively as I wished in #TWP15 Teaching with WordPress, but hope springs eternal.  Here goes my story.

In the video here I explain my journey to teaching with WordPress. I teach economics at Lansing Community College (and occasionally elsewhere).  As a community college professor, that means a lot of classes and few resources. I’ll confess, my journey to WordPress was originally motivated more by a desire to save time and simplify my workflow than by any great goal for improved pedagogy.  The improved pedagogy and learning outcomes happened anyway, whether I was trying or not, which has made it very interesting.  Simpler AND better. We don’t find that very often in higher ed tech.  I cover more of the details of how I progressively got pulled into the WordPress world in this video. It’s a bit long for an embedded video which is no surprise to my colleagues who know I love to talk.  The sound quality isn’t quite what I want, but I hope to edit it and improve it soon. But posted is better than perfect.

As I mention in the video, I’m not claiming to be the world’s pedagogical expert at teaching with WordPress.  I’m still experimenting. I’m trying. And I’m learning myself.  What’s been amazing to me is how things I’ve done because I wanted to save time or improve workflow have also led to better and improved learning by students. They love it.

I’ve actually used WordPress in several different ways as a professor. And in most of my uses, I haven’t replaced the traditional school LMS such as Blackboard, D2L, Moodle, etc. In fact, I can’t completely replace it (yet) because there are some minimum uses of the LMS that are mandated by my school. Don’t get me wrong. I want to eventually replace the LMS as we know them and I think WordPress can help us do that. I just am not there (yet).  So, I want to go over some of my uses and provide some links and screenshots.  I hope to share a little of what I’ve learned and maybe I can help other professors get started.  I want to emphasize how using WordPress can help us as professors to find our voice.

Note: I’m going to use WordPress somewhat generically. Yes there’s other open source tools available to run a website. Known and Jekyll-Git come to mind and if that’s your thing, great. But IMO, WP is the best combination of power, flexibility, supportive community, and stability available.

EconProph.comscreenshotThis is the website where you’re probably reading this right now (unless it’s been syndicated or copied elsewhere which is OK as long as it conforms to the Creative Commons license I assign).  I use this site to collect, curate, and comment on other economics and higher education related material I find on the Web.  It’s my editorial and general publishing platform.  I think all professors need a site like this.  It helps establish an professional voice for the professor. Increasingly academic research discussions and debates are being held on the Web via blogs of the professors.  Certainly they are in economics where journal publications have become kind of “tombstones” as Paul Krugman calls them. It’s where the final resting place for some academic argument lies. While the argument is raging though, the action is on the Web. In the lay world the same discussions are happening on the Web, only they happen in places like Facebook and Reddit.  The problem with  those is that once you post there, it’s not really your voice anymore. They own it. They control it. They can make it disappear. We need to have our own voice and the only way to do that is with our own domains and our own sites.

Teaching-wise, a site like this is really useful for online, hybrid, and f-2-f classes. It’s been many, many years since I’ve needed to copy a hand-out of some form for my classes.  It’s also an excellent way for students to see how their professor engages with the topics and materials.  That builds the professor’s credibility and it models the right thinking for students.  Even if you don’t teach a class with a WordPress, all teaching professors need a site like this.

The next site is my “teaching portfolio” site.  I think of it alternatively as “the world’s dullest site” or “my office in the cloud”.  It’s a great place to collect stuff for reuse later and where others can find or use them – things like vitae, syllabi, presentations, and comments from students.  It also makes a great background/bio/self-intro site for my students.  By the way, with the help of 1 or 2 WordPress plugins, creating and publishing new semester syllabi and schedules becomes a 5-10 minute breeze. It helps them see me as a professor, learn more about my background if they’re interested, etc.  It really builds a professional identity. It also helps me keep track of all the “service” stuff I do that my administration will ask about sometime next year but I will likely have already forgotten. I can embed my current calendar too.  and and

Econproph on Macro screenshotI teach the principles courses of economics. Micro in one semester and macro in the other, although lately I’m mostly a macro workhorse.  I teach these courses a lot. Fully online courses (students from 5 continents so far – come on Australia, you can do better).  But also traditional lecture face-to-face class and a 50-50 hybrid version as well.  I use the school’s LMS for grade reporting and any assignment where I want to use the auto-grading and auto-recording of scores features of the LMS. So basically quizzes are in the LMS (and right now discussion forums, too, but those are moving to WP soon).  Everything else is on a single WP site. My “lecture” content, assigned readings, videos, annotated version of the textbook table of contents, worksheet assignments, practice quizzes, and even additional links to explore the topic more.

The benefit for me is great. It’s one place to edit.  Fix a typo in one place and it’s updated in all sections of the course. The editing interface is much better than any LMS. Media storage and embedding is great. And help is only a Google “WordPress how-to …..” click away.

For students the benefits are even greater. IT’s easy to read and navigate on mobile automatically. It’s quicker than most LMS’s. Most important, it’s friendlier to read. WordPress allows and even encourages material to be presented as a narrative. That makes navigating the course easier.  And easier makes more better learning. Instead of the tech distracting from the content, WordPress features the content.

This brings me to idea of story-telling. We learn by stories. Humans always have. It’s part of being human. And a course should be giant story with little stories and analogies embedded in it. WordPress helps you tell stories.  You might want to check out post on Courses as Stories.  The first WP version of my principles courses (what you’re seeing if you’re clicking in summer 2015) started some of this narrative-oriented layout to the course, but version 2.0 in the works will do even more. and

econhist screenshotMy other two major courses are a little smaller. Unlike the 4 or so sections of macro I might teach each semester, I teach only one section of Comparative Economic Systems (spring) or Economic History (fall) at a time.  These courses are different.  I’ve also setup WordPress sites for them and have all the content on there. However, in these two courses I either have students post their “research papers” and discussions on the course WordPress site, or I provide them each with their own blog and syndicate their course-related content into the course hub site.

The advantage here is improved writing and engagement. Students like becoming creators on the Web and not just passive consumers. They also respond well to the idea that the writing assignments are not disposable assignments that only the professor may ever see.

This format of connected courses has a lot of potential and I know I’m a follower and not so much of a path-breaker in this format. Most of cMOOC style courses have operated this way.




One thought on “Finding My Voice – My Teaching With WP Journey

  1. I maybe said this on an earlier blog post of yours, but I am really intrigued by your point about WordPress allowing us to find our “voice.” I just asked on Twitter what others think of this, because I find it so powerful! Your point about the voice we have on WP being OURS rather than being controlled by someone else is very important. The number of times I see people complaining that a site or tool is shutting down and they’ll thereby have to export their data (if it’s even possible) is alarming. I don’t think WordPress as a platform is going to go away anytime soon; at least, it’s not nearly as likely for that to happen as some tool that is controlled by a single company that will shut it down if it’s not making money.

    I hadn’t thought before about how awkward it is to have to copy over LMS sites over and over again each year to get the static content. I mean, I think I just accepted it for many years because that seemed normal. But since I stopped using the LMS for content I forgot about how awful that was!

    I am still wondering, though, how best to deal with new iterations of a course on WordPress. I have pages that are specific to each term: pages that have the schedule for the weeks, including the dates, the readings, the assignments, etc. I have re-created those for each term, and made the old ones just “drafts” rather than “published.” I’m not sure this is the best way to do it. It’s rather clunky and still a good deal of work at the beginning of each term. So I’m still thinking about how to handle new iterations of the same course on WordPress.

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